28 Oct Guest Post: How Important is a HEA (Happily Ever After) ending? by Laura Templeton
Hi guys,today we have the pleasure to welcome Laura Templeton, the author of ‘Summer of the Oak Moon’ to our blog. She’ll talk about the importance of HEAs and hope you enjoy her post. Big thanks to Laura for visiting and to lovely Tamara from Traveling With T for arranging this.
Romance novels have been around a while now—since the early 1900’s (or, some argue, since Jane Austen.) And a large part of the genre’s appeal lies in its requirement for a happily every after (HEA) ending. If you want to write romance, be prepared to dish up some version of a sunny, optimistic ending—readers expect it!
I’ve written two books, both of which touch on the romance genre to some extent. My first book, Something Yellow, is women’s fiction, and my second book, Summer of the Oak Moon, is new adult (kind of a new-adult-women’s-fiction.) Now, women’s fiction is a subgenre of romance, in my opinion, so at least a modified version of a HEA ending was expected. I struggled with this a bit, as both books deal with some gritty, dark subjects. A traditional romance ending didn’t quite seem to cut it. So I studied authors I love and debated for a while before arriving at endings that were realistic yet happy enough to appeal to readers’—and my own—desire for a positive ending. Today, I thought I’d share a bit of what I learned along the way.
The first thing I determined was that HEA means different things in different genres. In traditional romance novels, the main character typically exits the story with a groom (or at least a fiancé) on her arm. As a reader, we’re left to sigh, smile, and maybe even fondly remember our own significant romance(s). We close the book satisfied that all is right with the world, which most certainly smiles on true love. Things get fuzzier when you move to novels that bill themselves as women’s fiction or “novels with romantic elements” (a phrase that has always seemed to me to encompass a great deal of literature!) If you read a novel by Karen White or Joshilyn Jackson or Dorothea Benton Frank—to name a few of my favorites—you’ll find an upbeat ending but not necessarily one as warm and fuzzy as in a traditional romance. These stories are more about character development, and heroines tend to overcome some scars—emotional and/or physical—to arrive at a more whole place than when the story starts. Romance storylines end satisfactorily, though not necessarily in matrimony.
I confess that I don’t actually read a ton of pure romance novels. (Though I’m a sucker for a paperback Christmas romance—just put some holly on a red-and-green cover and I’m all in.) Most of the time, I’m looking for a bit more in fiction. I especially enjoy reading women’s fiction, but even there the storylines sometimes seem whitewashed to me. Like, wow, it would be nice if life worked out that way, but this is the real world. People actually die in it. And suffer. There’s not always a miraculous way out of our problems. And I really like fiction that shows this, while managing to remain optimistic.
For a perfect example, I recently read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which won the Pulitzer Price for fiction this year. A friend recommended it,and I’m so glad she did! The book is set in Germany and France during WWII, and more than any other book I’ve ever read it gave me a sense of the brutality of the war. The ending (without giving too much away) is not what I would call happily ever after, which is not surprising given the subject matter. But what the book does accomplish is giving a sense of human dignity, of the courageous choices men and women can make in the face of catastrophic events. There’s something hopeful and inspiring about the storythat, for me, meets the requirements of a HEA ending in a nontraditional way.
On the flip side, I detest gloomy, depressing fiction. I once picked up David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, after reading that it was one of the most significant English language books in recent history. Quite possibly it is—I wouldn’t know. Apologies to any Wallace fans (and I certainly don’t mean to disparage his work), but I read a few chapters and could not put it down fast enough. Reading it made me feel like I was falling down a long black tunnel of despair. I didn’t need that in my life. I read (both fiction and nonfiction) for many reasons—to learn about new places (can’t beat Frances Mayes for that), to be entertained, to revel in beautiful language, and to learn about cool stuff and interesting people (who knew that the first woman and the sixth person ever to through-hike the Appalachian Trail was a 67-year-old great-grandmother?*) I don’t read to be depressed or shocked. Please, please allow me my HEA ending!
What is it about these endings that have such a timeless appeal?Why do we pick up book after book by our favorite authors knowing full well how every one of them is going to end? Think about that for a minute…from a logical standpoint we know the girl is going to get the guy. Or, in the case of women’s fiction, we know she’s going to solve the mystery and land solidly on her feet. But we still fall right into the author’s carefully-woven trap, chewing our fingernails in suspense, crying sad tears at that black moment when all seems lost, crying happy tears when it all comes together at the end. In short, making a blubbery mess of ourselves with every book (or maybe that’s just me…)
As a writer, I’ve thought about this a lot. And I’ve come to the conclusion that romance readers are optimists with an ingrained belief in human dignity and promise. We believe in Love (yes, with a capital L). We believe that the fates and God and nature and everything else will conspire to bring lovers together and to keep them that way. We believe that life is hard enough as it is, and that at least in the world of fiction some predictability is a good thing. It’s reassuring. And it’s most definitely fun. So, join me in enjoying your HEA fix!
*I recently finished Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery. (What can I say? It seemed a logical choice after finishing Cheryl Strayed’s Wild…)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
One of my earliest memories is of being read to by my mother, who was an avid reader herself, and of going with her to visit our local library. I loved—and still love—libraries, where I can find books by my favorite authors and discover new ones. For me, the library is the closest I’m apt to get to a time machine—past, present, and future all catalogued, dusted, and placed within easy reach.
I had an early and enduring love of mysteries, thanks to the shelf of blue-bound Hardy Boys books left over from my older brothers, and Arthurian legends, due to the fact that I grew up in a subdivision named Camelot on a street called King Arthur’s Court. From the Hardy Boys, I moved on to Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and plans one day to start my own detective agency. The fact that I was scared of the dark was surmountable, I thought. I was an optimist.
Today, I am not a private detective, though I am still an optimist. When I’m not writing fiction, I work for a laboratory equipment manufacturer, solving mysteries of another sort, mostly during daylight hours—which is fortunate since I’m still afraid of the dark. I enjoy reading and discussing books, both fiction and engaging nonfiction. I garden, walk, kayak and ice skate near Athens, Georgia, and love everything about my beautiful state except for the mosquitoes.
I love to hear from readers, so feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org